“So, dad, who killed Jesus? Did God do it? …and why? What did Jesus do that was bad that he was punished?”

How do you answer your 8-year-old son or 14-year-old daughter and present an image of a loving father you’d like to know and emulate?

The thing is, I know my kids may have been taught the God-killed-Jesus-for-me version of the bible story in religious education at school, or in kid’s church on Sunday, or elsewhere. I’m just not, anymore.

[Deep breath]. Context: My kids know that part of mine and Nat’s job is helping people who are hurting inside by praying and talking with them. With us, they believe God hears our cries, lives in our hearts, is with us when we are hurting and loves the whole world. That’s the simple version.

All three of my kids know we are not perfect parents, but they all know that we love them deeply. We don’t beat them. They know that disciplinary punishment looks like losing a privilege, a stern warning, a rare smack, or simply allowing the consequences of their actions to have their full effect. “Go ahead boys, fight it out. Go outside and at least use the lawn while you injure each other. Let us know if you need band-aids.”

Nat and I talk about parenting A LOT. It’s something we are intentional about and we both get regular outside counselling, psych and prayer ministry help for ourselves because our inner crap ALWAYS effects the home – whether we acknowledge it or not. Yes, our stress, anger, frustration, numbing, addictions or depressed emotional states always leak into the home. Perception effects all interactions.

Parenting is terribly confronting and we’re constantly growing up alongside our kids.

Back to the opening question.

What would it look like if my two boys were wrestling one afternoon (as boys do) and broke a cup on the coffee table, leaving one of them with a small cut in their side – and what if I had told them wrestling was forbidden, and if they did wrestle someone would get hurt or something would break? What if they assumed, like other fathers they heard about, (including a version of God they heard about) I would be furious and there would be major consequences for their sin? After all, there is a price to pay, right? I’m a man of my word and someone will be hurt or something would break! (Even though those things already happened).

What if I sat them both down, and tell them “Boys, dad is very, very angry. I have wrath that must be satisfied!” I pull out my belt, fold it over and say to them, “You know what, you’re not worth my time! I can’t even look at you! I can’t even be near you! I need someone perfect to take your place so that I can at least consider having you in this house. Where is your sister?”
Imagine now, I get their sister, who has done nothing wrong, and violently beat her to death in front of them and then casually (and psychotically) switch from angry-wrathful-dad to happy-satisfied-dad and say, “Alright boys, I’m OK now. I’m not angry with you. We can be at one now.”

Do you think I might be arrested, put in jail for manslaughter and clinically labelled insane?

And yet, this is what so many Christian’s accept as the Easter story. And I say ‘accept’ because I don’t know if a balanced, love-bonded and thoughtful heart can fully ‘believe’ this. I mean, on Sunday if you can sing ‘You’re a good, good Father’ and your idea of a good father is one who punishes his children, let alone violently crucifies a beloved innocent son because he demands blood and/or perfection before you can be together, you’ve got some serious thinking to do – and I’m begging you, especially as a parent – THINK ABOUT IT!!

For the theologically inclined, as a parent, I’m taking a much needed and over-avoided-because-of-fear assessment of Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) Theory. It is largely ‘accepted’ among evangelical and protestant Christians nowadays and is not all that old in the world of atonement (at-one-ment) theories. (Yes, there are many more options!) If you want to examine it’s components there are books and essays galore. I’m not prepared to lay it all out and/or defend other views here because I believe one should do their own exploration and wrestling. Suffice to say, I don’t subscribe to the theory that proposes Jesus Christ, who is God incarnate, who is the Word of God, who is the Father’s beloved Son and forever member of the Trinity suffered under the hand of wrathful God (the father).

Back to the parenting thing.

I’m not raising my kids to be afraid of God. They are told God is love. They are told unhealthy choices come with their own kind of punishment and it’s not God punishing you. They are told eternal life is knowing the Trinity of Jesus, Father and Spirit. They are not threatened with concepts of hell and eternal torment. Their free will is honoured and we tell them God never breaches our choice or free will. We encourage authenticity.

Nat and I are working to establish love bonds and secure attachments with our kids, so they might have a perspective of God that’s inclined to seeing God as a kind parent whose love is unconditional and whose mature love drives out intimidation – because fear has to do with punishment (1Jn4:18). They are most often loved, cuddled, listened to and prayed over when they are scared, happy, disobedient, angry, winning or failing. We believe in relational parenting, not transactional parenting. We’re not raising kids for some kind of return on investment. We do our best to love unconditionally.

I’ve answered those curly questions from the kids below, but before you read them I would invite you to consider something. And maybe this struck me as alarming, more than it strikes you. But if you are a conscientious Christian parent, or were raised in such a home, this is interesting: In 2017 some research was conducted called “Penal Substitutionary Atonement and Concern for Suffering: An Empirical Study.” It does a good job of highlighting and summarising the dominant PSA belief systems in modern Evangelicalism, and then makes some interesting conclusions:
“PSA was significantly and negatively associated with a sense of responsibility for reducing pain and suffering in the world, and this association was mediated by the significant negative association of gender complementarianism on the responsibility to reduce pain and suffering in the world. (1)”

That may sound like complex language – it sort of is. It’s a psych and theology research paper after all. Basically, the authors concluded from the research that professing a Penal Substitutionary Atonement theology and then living from it (operative theology) leads to individuals caring less about alleviating pain and suffering in the world, particularly for women. The research reveals narrative links between a father’s role to punish/discipline/spank his children so that “it instils a sense of respect and fear of the male parent, who children are taught… holds a place of authority in the family like God holds a place of authority over the church.”

The link to the paper is below but suffice to say it’s not the kind of theology I want to parent from or husband from – because I don’t believe it represents the same Father Jesus revealed, especially when we consider God’s love-based triune nature! And personally, in our pastoral care and counselling ministry, Nat and I have walked with too many people through stories of Christian men who traumatised their children and wives because they believed a lived out theology required (or justified) dominance, punishment and coercion; or at least permitted/substantiated it. NO THANK YOU, I’LL HAVE A DIFFERENT THEOLOGY, PLEASE.

Q: So, dad, who killed Jesus?
A: Angry and scared people. Mainly fear-driven men; actually.

Q: Did God do it? What did Jesus do that was bad that he was punished?
A: We may have considered Jesus crucified by God, but He didn’t do it. People did. Besides, Jesus is God. The Father and Son are one and connected through the Spirit by love.
Angry, scared people killed God on the cross. But we know death is not the end, especially for God, and death is not the end for us either.

If you’re still reading, thank you. For the sake of length and time, I’m not going to justify my position on Jesus’ birth, death, resurrection and ascension, only to say that Jesus wasn’t plan B after Adam #1 – and the cross wasn’t a father punishing an innocent son because of laws, debt, perfectionism or anger issues.

You may have many questions. Heck, you may be pissed with me or you may be concerned for my salvation (whatever that means to you). But I’m guessing, for many of you, especially loving dads, what I’ve written resonates with you deeply. Whatever camp you’re in, you have the joy of discovering more for yourself. Perhaps try to read your bible with ‘loving Trinity dad lenses’ on. Who knows? …you might find that God really is light, and there is no darkness in him at all (1Jn1:5)

P.S. I’m open to civil discussion. I will read the comments. I don’t have all the answers or theological rebuttals to some of those tricky/sticky/lonely/poorly translated bible verses that may come to mind. I’m still seriously wrestling with stuff. I may not reply to all comments and will moderate/delete anything I feel is disrespectful and unhelpful.

(1) Hydinger, Kristen, et al. “Penal Substitutionary Atonement and Concern for Suffering: An
Empirical Study.” Journal of Psychology and Theology, vol. 45, no. 1, 2017, pp. 33.